Limitations

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“Don’t waste yourself in talk!” says Mona to Henry Miller, as he starts on another of his monologues. He shouldn’t be saying all this to her: it should be going in the book.

Sometimes Henry seems to agree with her on this point. If only he could get all these ideas down on the page! And yet, looking back, Miller sees that Mona’s plea for him to just write it rests on a misconception about the way creation occurs.

Ideas don’t travel directly from the brain to the page, but must find their own way. And there’s something about Henry’s ideas that they never seem to find their way. It’s like they’re the wrong fit for the page and cannot adapt.

By talking, Henry is creating ideas to be stored away in his mind and saved for later. He sees these ideas as so many gold pieces, he says, each one forged in the moment, then thrown on the pile to be spent later. It’s like he knows that one day he’ll get his great work written, and with all this talk he’s already working on it. They don’t fit yet, but they will.

And yet he’s sick of not spending any of these stored up treasures. When will the moment arrive?

Henry tells Mona he is still struggling with his limitations, and that’s why he can’t stop talking and just write. He talks of being able to write “like a madman” one minute, and the next he can do nothing. It sounds like he is talking about a lack of technical knowledge: he doesn’t know how he does it even when he does. He is not a craftsman yet, and so must leave it all to chance.

We know that eventually Miller would become a successful writer. But did he ever get past these limitations? His novels spiral on and on, around and around, as if he had lost control of them. Perhaps instead of overcoming his limitations, Miller was only ever able to become better and better at working with them, throwing himself into the chaos of his own mysterious creative processes.

(I’ve been reading Nexus by Henry Miller.)

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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